No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll. Acacia Moon Publishing. 2018.
This collection grabbed my by the heart and by the throat. It was an intense and emotional read for me, and I’m so grateful it exists in the world. These are stories that are very clearly written for trans and/or non-binary readers, and they made me cry in the best way.
No Man of Woman Born is a beautiful collection of rewoven tales, stories that reshape fairy tales and swords-and-sorcery fantasy stories to firmly center trans and/or non-binary main characters. It focuses on gendered prophecies that know the MC’s gender even if others around them do not, and shows trans and/or non-binary characters breaking, subverting, and fulfilling those prophecies.
I considered reviewing each story individually, but for me, in my reading experience of this book, the power of these tales is bigger as a whole collection, they were cumulatively more impactful than each story on it’s own. Reading them in huge gulps, one right after the other, was intense and at times so emotional I needed to pause for a breather. But I’m so glad I read this book that way, because there is something so powerful about seeing yourself being held and honored on the page, in stories that never included you. The quiet relentless inclusion of trans and/or non-binary folks in re-imagining a genre that largely erases us cracked something open for me, and was deeply healing.
This collection has so much you might long for in fantasy: battles with dragons, spies, defeating fascist dictators, training for battle with comrades, a sword in a stone, a magical curse to defeat, avenging the death of family, wish-granting, witches who lead you on adventures, MCs who use cleverness to defeat both human and fantastical foes.
I loved the last story, “The Wish Giver,” when I first read it over a year ago on the author’s website. It made me cry, and filled me with hope. I keep that page open on the browser on my phone so I can read it whenever I need nourishment to help counter cissexism, misgendering and trans hatred. I adore this story. Reading it at the close of this collection quadrupled it’s impact on me, because now I have a collection of stories where magic honors who we are even when the world does not, and trans and/or non-binary folks are at the center of fantasy adventures, fighting fascism and oppressive rulers and those that would harm their families, being seen and honored for who they are, claiming their destinies for themselves.
I have particular affection for the way the genderfluid aromantic MC of “Early to Rise” cleverly figures out a way to escape the pressure of having to find a true love. I adored the genderfluid rep in this story, it resonated very deeply for me. And the pressure Claude was under felt so real; amatonormativity is so intense, and it was a palpable force in this story. I also smiled that this character is named Claude, as there is another recent fantasy book with a genderfluid aromantic MC named Claude!
I really love the gender-questioning MC in the titular story, “No Man of Woman Born,” so so much. I cried when this character figures out that it is not necessary to choose a gender path right now in order to be a hero. The relief of that kind of pressure felt so beautiful to witness. My heart was in my throat the entire time I read “Daughter of Kings,” it was gripping and intense and I felt so much for the MC and her little brother. The beautiful cover captures the energy of that story and the MC just perfectly.
Honestly, I loved them all, and they all struck me in different soft spots, and held me as I cracked open, and I cannot even measure the amount of feels I had reading them. Just reading the variety of neopronouns in these stories, for both MCs and for secondary characters, made me want to twirl around hugging this book. I know I will be rereading, as this collection is such a balm for me as a non-binary trans reader who grew up loving fantasy stories much like these and never saw myself in them. Mardoll’s collection of trans and/or non-binary centered stories is such a gift to me, and I am incredibly grateful.
- Non-binary MC
- Trans man MC
- Queer trans woman MC
- Genderfluid aromantic MC
- Gender questioning MC
- Fat trans girl MC
- Many non-binary and trans secondary characters
- Bi, ace spec, autistic, queer, fat, disabled, transgender, demigirl author
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
There are content warnings at the beginning of the book, listed by story. Some general ones here: border walls, genocide/population purges, violence, self harm, self sacrifice, misgendering, ableism, sexual violence, death of family members, parental bigotry, murder, governmental oppression.
- Source of the book: ARC from the author.
- I am friends with the author.
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Note: Unlike many indie books, this does have an audiobook and it’s wonderful. I will add a link when it’s available.
Other Relevant Reviews
- My character interview with Claude, the MC of Early to Rise, a story in this collection
- Review of Poison Kiss, another book by Ana Mardoll
- My interview with Claudie Arseneault, author of Baker Thief, another fantasy with a genderfluid aromantic MC
- Review of A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power, another non-binary centered fantasy with a genderfluid MC
- Review of Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live, another fantasy with a trans MC
- Review of Darkling, another fantasy with a trans MC
- Review of Mask of Shadows, another fantasy with a genderfluid MC